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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 26, 2010

Sierra Horan wrestles against gender lines in pursuit of victory

By Jordan J. Michael

ALTAMONT –– Wrestling is a male dominated sport, but Sierra Horan, of Altamont, is helping to break the mold. She was the only girl in the Guilderland wrestling program for three years, and has just started wrestling in college.

“People would be like, ‘Hey, there’s that girl from Guilderland,’” Horan said last month. “Everyone would go out of their way to point me out. I was that girl.”

Now, Horan is at Jamestown College in Jamestown, N.D. after graduating from Guilderland in June. She’s a member of the women’s wrestling team, one of 15 in the country and 15 in Canada that are part of the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association.

Before traveling to Jamestown, Horan won a silver medal in weightlifting at the Empire State Summer Games in Buffalo. She started weightlifting last summer for wrestling and her trainer, Keith Nautel, suggested that she sign up for the Games.

“I was just glad to survive it,” said Horan, who wasn’t as big as the other female weightlifters. “I was like the smallest girl there. I was trying not to get crushed.”

After competing against mostly boys in high school, Horan will tussle with her own gender at Jamestown.

“I feel more confident against other women,” said Horan on Wednesday. “We have the same strength and I won’t be so overmatched.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 5,000 high school girls wrestled in 2006. Some schools in Texas, Hawaii, and California even have all-girls’ teams. Also, women’s wrestling is now an Olympic sport.

“Women have been involved in this sport for a long time,” said Jamestown Head Coach Cisco Cole. “They have been constantly taking steps and now women are really prevalent in wrestling. A lot of these girls had brothers that wrestled and they picked it up by practicing with them.”

Cole told The Enterprise that the WCWA has added at least one new program each year over the past five years. “It’s more readily available now,” he said.

Lone girl

Horan started wrestling with the Dutchmen in 10th grade after being interested in the sport for a few years. She didn’t have an older brother as an influence and she stayed on the junior-varsity team throughout her senior year.

“I just jumped into it after watching other people do it,” said Horan, who played volleyball and soccer earlier. “I learned quickly that ball sports weren’t for me. I would always get hit in the face. I would even get hit when I wasn’t on the field.”

Horan was required to take a fitness test before joining the team and it took her a few years to pass it. All the qualifications of the test were up to male standards; the boys already on the team didn’t have to pass the test.

“They didn’t give me a break at all,” Horan said. “I was really annoyed that none of the other guys had to pass the test, but it made me work harder to prove myself.”

Varsity never came calling because Horan was always below three or four other male wrestlers in either the 119-pound or 125-pound weight class. “You’re on varsity if you beat everyone else and I was always behind,” she said. “It was really hard and it just didn’t happen.”

Horan told The Enterprise that she “lost a lot of matches” against boys; she didn’t win a match until her junior year. Horan wrestled in only five matches in her sophomore year and it increased slightly after that.

“The first guy I beat was quite mad afterwards,” Horan recalls. “He got a lot of flak from his teammates.”

“Wrestling against guys would throw me off because I could see how much stronger they were,” said Horan. “Beating another girl gives me more pride because they’re on my level. I gave myself less credit against boys because it was so tough.”

Horan said that she never had a problem with lewd sexual comments or general mistreatment from her Dutchmen teammates. Male opponents from other teams would say negative things, but her own team members were very respectful.

“I had fear, but I just figured it out,” said Horan. “The first year was really scary, but my teammates didn’t treat me any differently. It was kind of surprising, actually. Even though I was the only girl, I was just a wrestler like everyone else. I got fair treatment.”

However, there were a few awkward moments.

“Some of the guys I went against were totally freaked out and a few would just forfeit the match,” Horan said. “I don’t think it’s as strange for the girl as it is for the guy. I’ve walked into the other team’s locker room a couple times and that was really odd. But, it really wasn’t as weird as people would think.”

Comfort zone

Horan is glad to be settling in with a team of other women who wrestled against boys in high school, just like she did. She’s majoring in education at Jamestown College, a school that was really interested in her attendance.

“They called and checked on me to see how things were going,” Horan said about Jamestown. “They really wanted me to go. Wrestling will keep me on track in school and Jamestown seemed like the most caring place.”

“She’s a hard worker, a tremendous competitor, and a determined athlete,” Cole said. “I’m sure she’ll come here and fight for a spot. It doesn’t matter if she’s used to fighting boys because the act of wrestling doesn’t change.”

On Wednesday, Horan was getting ready for a nine-mile run. She doesn’t even know what weight she’s wrestling at yet and she has to get used to a freestyle form, which incorporates more throws and turns.

“I would rather not be a starter in my first season because I need to get the swing of things first,” Horan said. “I have some learning to do.”

Horan concluded that it’s “nice to not be the only girl in the locker room” at Jamestown.

“I don’t know how I got into this sport, but I really like the moves,” Horan said. “I like to grab people and throw them around. It’s a great way to release all my stresses in life.”

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